Skin cancer occurs on the outer skin layer known as the epidermis which is made up of 7 layers of skin cells. The general warning signs of skin cancer include the following:
Any changes in colour, size, texture or shape of any skin growth
Open or inflamed wound that won’t heal
Symptoms of Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer include:
A clump of shiny, firm, dark bumps
A change in an existing mole
A small, dark, multi-coloured spot with jagged borders that is either flat or elevated that may bleed and form a scab
Symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) which usually appears on sun-exposed skin, include:
A smooth red spot pierced in the centre
A flesh coloured oval lump that can develop into a ulcer that can bleed
A brown, red or bluish black patch of skin on the chest or back
Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) which also usually appears on sun exposed skin, includes:
A flat spot that can become a bleeding sore that will not heal
A firm red bump that grows gradually
The skin is a very complex part of our system as it is our largest organ. There are two main parts to the skin - the epidermis which is the outer layer and is made up of 7 layers of skin cells and the lowest parts. Once the cells have divided and moved their way up to the surface they flatten and die and consist of keratin. This process takes approximately 4 weeks. Melanocytes are found throughout the epidermis and they are the cells that produce the protective pigment which is known as melanin. Skin cancers fall into two major groups - melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma is cancer of melanocytes and it is the cancer of the skin which is most dangerous. It usually starts as a mole or birthmark and can start in normal skin. Melanoma usually appears on the torso first, however it can appear on the sole of the foot, on the palm of the hand, in the mucous linings of the mouth, vagina or anus, under a toenail or fingernail and even in the eye. Melanoma is often fatal, however it is usually spotted quite easily and therefore readily cured. This type of cancer can spread beyond the skin to other areas though, and this is where the problem lies in treating and curing the disease. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are the two most common skin cancers and are not usually fatal as they are non-melanomas. They progress slowly and stay localized on the skin and are easily detectable. BCC grows the slowest, however SCC is more aggressive and more inclined to spread.
One good thing about skin cancer is that it develops on the skin and is therefore easy to detect in its early stages and if it is treated early enough there is more chance of it being cured. Even if you know that your skin growths are non-cancerous you should always have them checked out occasionally as they can become cancerous. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world and even though most cases are cured it affects so many people, especially those with celtic colouring - blue eyes, red hair and fair skin and it is most common in Australia.
Too much exposure to the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. Sunlight is made up of ultraviolet (UV) rays, these rays alter the genetic material in skin cells and cause mutations. It is therefore wise to avoid to much exposure to sunlamps, x-rays and tanning booths as all these instruments use UV rays that can damage the skin and cause cancerous growths. BCC and SCC is linked to excessive sun exposure and excessive sunbathing is the cause of Melanoma as it causes the skin to be scorched and blistered. Research has found that one blistering sunburn during childhood can actually double a person’s risk of getting melanoma later in life. People who are most vulnerable to Melanoma are -
Fair skinned people
People who have a lot of freckles or moles
People with pigment disorders
People who are exposed to coal tar, radium, insecticides and other carcinogens in their work environment
Exposure to UV radiation
Occasionally skin cancer can be hereditary, but not often
You should perform a self examination regularly by looking at every inch of your body and if you do not know what you are looking for, ask your doctor to explain the different types of skin cancers and what the symptoms are. If you do find a growth, make sure that you have it examined by your doctor or dermatologist as soon as possible. All potentially cancerous skin growths have to be confirmed by a cancer diagnosis therefore it is important that you always go to your doctor to have them checked out. Never remove the lumps by burning, shaving or freezing as it will not allow pathologic examination of the growth.
To prevent the occurrence of skin cancer you should stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day approximately 11am - 2pm, use a sun screen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher whenever you are going outside, take a Vitamin B complex supplement, wear clothes that cover you and a UV protection cream on any exposed areas, self examine yourself regularly and report any suspicious looking marks or skin lesions to your doctor immediately.
When to seek further professional advice
As soon as you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above.
Once you have been diagnosed with skin cancer, the only acceptable treatment is medical care. There are alternative treatments that can be helpful in preventing the disease though as well as helping the body to cope with the side effects from the conventional treatments. Zinc and the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E have been found to repair damaged body tissue and help promote healthy skin. Herbalists recommend using African sausage tree (Kigelia pinnata) to treat skin cancer however more research needs to be performed on this herb.
Fortunately, skin cancers are usually detected and cured before they spread, however melanoma that has spread to other organs poses the greatest problem. There are standard treatments which are safe and effective and cause hardly any side effects for localised BCC and SCC. If BCC or SCC has started to spread beyond the skin, tumours are removed surgically and the patient is then treated with immunotherapy, radiation or chemotherapy, however this is only in rare cases. Melanoma tumours have to be removed surgically as soon as they are detected and neither chemotherapy or radiation will be able to cure advanced melanoma. However either treatment may slow down the disease and relieve the symptoms. It is important that you have regular check ups if you have been cured of skin cancer.
The information contained in this Site/Service is not intended nor is it implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice or taken for medical diagnosis or treatment.